The benefits of a bilingual education

Posted on 29th Sep 2023 in School News, Language Learning, Which London School?

Suzanne Haigh, Head at Kensington Wade, shares the advantages and importance of children learning a second language.

Kensington Wade is an award-winning, bilingual nursery and prep school in west London for children aged 3-11. At Kensington Wade half the lessons are taught in English and half in Chinese, providing full immersion in the two languages and giving children complete fluency in both.

We believe that our pupils benefit from a bilingual education both in the short term and for the rest of their lives. Being bilingual has a profound effect on the brain and provides many academic, economic, and social advantages.

Boosted cognitive development and memory

A large, and rapidly growing, body of research shows that learning a second language boosts brain capacity in areas such as creative thinking, pattern recognition, and problem-solving as well as the ability to multi-task.

Bilingual people are more able to sort out relevant information from irrelevant information, meaning they can focus better and be more effective thinkers and decision-makers. They tend to make less emotionally charged and more critically analysed decisions.

Children who learn multiple languages have stronger memories and are more cognitively creative. Research indicates that bilingual people are usually better at remembering names, directions etc. than those who speak one language.

Improved academic achievement

The brain of a bilingual person is regularly challenged to recognise, find meaning and communicate in multiple languages. This cognitive flexibility makes bilingual children more able to think critically and analyse complex information.

Studies indicate that pupils who have a bilingual education show greater achievements than their monolingual peers, especially in maths, reading and vocabulary, and that they often do better at standardised tests than those who know one language. Young learners also develop greater linguistic awareness, a better understanding of their native language and increased self-esteem.

Enhanced social skills and perspectives

Bilingual pupils are adept at shifting their perspective and understanding the world from others’ points of view. This interpersonal agility and openness encourage a more compassionate and considered approach to the world.

Economic opportunities

There is a growing need for a multilingual workforce and the ability to conduct business in more than one language is becoming more critical. Looking ahead to your child’s future career, bilingual people often hold higher positions and earn better incomes than monolinguals in the same industry.

Having the ability to communicate with customers in more than one market is a clear advantage and opens doors for those who wish to move and work abroad.

Cultural understanding

Exposure to two languages helps develop an appreciation for differences in cultures. Bilingual people can engage with languages through stories, songs, and other sources of information without requiring translation. They can also talk directly with locals or fellow travellers which all leads to more meaningful cultural understanding.

At Kensington Wade our classes are also a great opportunity to teach children about diversity and promote equality which leads to greater tolerance as children become adults. We believe that those who have a second language give themselves the best chance to embrace the world that awaits them.

Further language acquisition

Being bilingual from childhood, particularly where two languages are given equal prominence in an education setting, significantly enhances a person’s ability to acquire fluency in additional languages at any stage in life.

So, why do we think at Kensington Wade that Chinese is an important language to learn? It is the most widely spoken language on earth and is becoming increasingly influential due to China’s growing economic, political, and cultural power.

Cognitive benefits

Learning Chinese also has cognitive benefits because, unlike most other languages, Chinese stimulates and activates the development of both sides of the brain (Wellcome Trust UK, 2003). This is especially true if children learn how to both read and write it.

Chinese writing develops shape recognition and spatial awareness as children need to make sure that each character is the same size, no matter how many strokes are required.

Children who study Chinese learn to recognize the difference between the sound and substance particles of various characters to establish their meaning and pronunciation. This process stimulates the development of excellent problem-solving skills.

Psychologists also suggest that children are open to better and easier learning of Chinese as it is a tonal language and they have the sensitivity to pick up nuances of tone and sound, making it easier for children to grasp Chinese pronunciation. The tonal associations of Chinese can also enhance musical ability.

Looking to the future

At Kensington Wade we believe that knowing Chinese will give our pupils an extra edge in the increasingly global economy. Business leaders and international corporations are looking for people who can speak the language and operate successfully in a Chinese cultural context. Governments also need Chinese specialists to deal with diplomatic affairs related to China.

Broadening cultural horizons

Learning Chinese opens a window into a fascinating history and culture and an immense store of literature and art. China is publishing more books than any other country and is making more and more contributions to scientific, technological, and philosophical studies. The writings of Chinese policy makers, administrators, economists, and business leaders will also become increasingly mainstream.

Come and visit us to find out more about our unique nursery and school. Please visit www.kensingtonwade. com

This article first appeared in the 2023/24 edition of Which London School? & the South-East, which you can read in full below: